When Good Characters Do Bad Things: Examining the Effect of Moral Ambiguity on Enjoyment

K. Maja Krakowiak, Mary Beth Oliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Some of the most compelling characters are morally ambiguous, but little research has examined these characters. This study (N = 313) empirically tests the effects of good, bad, and morally ambiguous characters (MACs) on audience responses. Findings of an experiment reveal that different character types are appealing for different reasons. Specifically, good characters are enjoyed because they are well liked; bad characters are liked the least, but they are equally as transporting, suspenseful, and thus cognitively engaging as other characters. MACs, on the other hand, are liked less than good characters, but they are nevertheless equally as transporting, suspenseful, cognitively engaging, and thereby enjoyable as good characters. The implications of these findings on various media effects theories are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-135
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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